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The opposition jubilant in Istanbul after a historic victory in the municipal elections

Photo: Yasin Akgul Agence France-Presse Tens of thousands of exultant supporters flooded the streets of Istanbul on Sunday, carrying Turkey's red flags. In the crowd, smoke bombs were even lit.

Fulya Ozerkan – Agence France-Presse, Burcin Gercek – Agence France-Presse, Rémi Banet – Agence France-Presse

March 31, 2024

  • Middle East

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday conceded the historic victory of the opposition in the municipal elections, which he said constituted a “turning point” for his camp, in power since 2002.

The counting of nearly 99% of ballot boxes nationwide confirms that the Turkish opposition inflicted the head of state's AKP (Islamo-conservative) party with its worst electoral debacle in two decades.

The main opposition party, the CHP (social democrat), claimed victory in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey's two largest cities, and captured many others, such as the big city Bursa industrial sector in the northwest acquired from the AKP since 2004.

The proclamation of the final results by the High Electoral Commission (YSK) expected during the day on Monday will confirm these results, already integrated by the main stakeholders, including the Head of State.

From his party headquarters in Ankara and in front of a dejected, unusually silent crowd, the Turkish president promised to “respect the decision of the Nation”.

Shortly before, the outgoing mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, a media-loving and dashing fifty-year-old, announced his re-election at the head of Turkey's largest city, which he conquered in 2019, without even waiting for the official results to be announced.

“Tonight democracy will surge […] on the squares, in the streets, universities, cafes and restaurants of Istanbul”, launched the city councilor in front of tens of thousands of his supporters, exultant, rushed to the municipal headquarters, under a wave of Turkish red flags and smoke bombs.

In Ankara, CHP Mayor Mansur Yavas, well in the lead, had also already claimed victory, asserting in front of a cheering crowd that “those who were ignored sent a clear message to those who lead this country.”

Breakthrough in Anatolia

“The voters chose to change the face of Turkey,” said CHP leader Ozgur Ozel.

Besides Izmir (west), third city in the country and stronghold of the CHP, and Antalya (south) where opposition supporters began to celebrate the victory in the streets, the main formation of the opposition achieved a spectacular breakthrough in Anatolia.

She is leading the race in provincial capitals long held by the AKP, according to almost final results which took observers by surprise.

President Erdogan, aged 70, 21 in power, had thrown all his weight into the campaign, particularly in Istanbul, the “jewel” of the country, its economic and cultural capital of which he was mayor in the 1990s and who switched to opposition in 2019.

But the commitment of the Head of State, who announced at the beginning of March that these elections were “his last”, was not enough.

“There is a need for balance at least at the local level against the government,” Serhan Solak, 56, a resident of Ankara who came to vote for Mansur Yavas, told AFP on Sunday morning. the outgoing mayor of the CHP.

The AKP candidates, however, remained in the lead in several large cities in Anatolia (Konya, Kayseri, Erzurum) and the Black Sea (Rize, Trabzon), strongholds of President Erdogan, while that the pro-Kurdish DEM party secured a comfortable lead in several large cities in the Kurdish-majority southeast, including Diyarbakir, the informal capital of Turkey's Kurds.

Battle of 2028

Throughout the campaign, President Erdogan held daily meetings, benefiting from unlimited airtime on public television, while his opponents were almost deprived of it.

The defeat of his Justice and Development Party, particularly in Istanbul, will have serious consequences.

Clinging to the city, the president canceled the 2019 municipal election, only to see Mr. Imamoglu win with a vengeance in a second election held three months later, suffering thus his worst electoral setback since coming to power in 2003 as prime minister.

The mayor of Istanbul, subscribed to the podium of the Turks' favorite political figures, has since continued to pose as a direct rival to the head of state, who nevertheless portrayed him as a devoured “part-time mayor”. by its national ambitions.

For many observers, once elected, the mayor of Istanbul will have a path towards the 2028 presidential election.

The Head of State, resigned, spoke of the “four years of work […] not to be wasted” between now and then, a way of ruling out the possibility of a early election which would allow him to run again.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116